A nation seeking security needs pharmacists as COVID-19 testers

Everyone is craving security right now, or at least just reassurance that everything is going to be OK.

Certainties like that can be hard to come by these days. But as we look toward a return to normalcy, there are some things that we know can help us get there.

Top of the list is more widespread and reliable COVID-19 testing, and for those tests to be accessible to everyone regardless of location or means.

Along with extensive training and education, accessibility is one of the main advantages of full utilization of pharmacists in the health care system. It goes without saying that pharmacists and COVID-19 testing are a natural combination. We need more tests, and we need more testing sites—and we need them fast. APhA and our pharmacy colleagues have been using our collective might to spread the message that leveraging pharmacists and pharmacies is a clear path to achieving this. Never has our quest to be “on the team and in the game” been more urgent!

That’s something the federal government seems to be picking up on. A CMS interim final rule released last week says that Medicare will cover certain COVID-19 tests administered by pharmacists enrolled in Medicare as a laboratory. The interim final rule also states that COVID-19 tests, along with influenza and respiratory virus tests performed in conjunction with a COVID-19 diagnostic test, may be covered when ordered by any health care professional—including a pharmacist—authorized to do so under state law.

And on April 8, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidance authorizing licensed pharmacists to order and administer FDA-authorized COVID-19 tests, including serology tests.

Yet these guidances aren’t simple and have left barriers to optimal engagement of pharmacists and pharmacies in meeting our nation’s testing access goals. APhA and other pharmacy organizations are working with the federal government to reduce these barriers to implementing the HHS-issued guidance, including addressing logistics, payment, billing, and more. We must also ensure that pharmacists who perform tests have adequate personal protective equipment, and that testing is built into workflow.

APhA has created resources that not only help you keep yourselves, your patients, and your communities healthy, but prepare you for what comes next. Please visit the APhA coronavirus resource center at www.pharmacist.com/coronavirus. You’ll find the link to register for our free weekly webinars and view previous ones, multiple practice tools, APhA-curated literature, and much more. If you want to know what APhA is doing for you, spend some time exploring what we’ve built—and check back frequently, because we’re putting out more stuff every day.

You’ll also find opportunities to participate in response efforts and use your voice to advance access to pharmacists’ services during the pandemic.

Congress’s consideration of legislation aimed at economic stimulus and fighting COVID-19 is ongoing. APhA is advocating for several bills and provisions that, if passed, would benefit pharmacists and increase access to pharmacist services. You can help. We’re pursuing a grassroots effort to send 10,000 letters to Members of Congress and tell them that recognizing pharmacists as health care providers can help bring this crisis under control and save lives. Click here to take action and send letters to your legislators. It’s simple and it only takes a few minutes.

I never could have predicted that I’d be wrapping up my time as CEO of APhA under such grave and serious circumstances—but the heroism and dedication I’m seeing from frontline pharmacists, their supporting casts, and the many APhA staff and volunteers on a daily basis is exactly what we have come to expect. I’ll share more about APhA’s transitions another time. For now, just know that APhA is working tirelessly to ensure your safety, recognition, and ability to serve patients and communities.